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Scottish health chiefs held talks on wealthier patients paying for NHS

Scottish health chiefs ‘held secret talks on forcing wealthier patients to pay for NHS treatment’: Fury as bombshell memo reveals ‘managers discussed introducing ”two-tier” health service’

  • Health chiefs held talks on forcing wealthier patients in Scotland to pay for NHS
  • The revelations were branded as a ‘damning’ and ‘alarming’ indictment of SNP
  • One suggested reform is to design a two-tier private and public health system
  • Private hospitals have reported waiting lists soared to almost 750,000 people

Health chiefs have held secret talks on forcing wealthier patients in Scotland to pay for treatment on the NHS.

Bombshell minutes from a meeting revealed senior management discussed introducing a ‘two-tier’ health service.

The revelations were branded ‘deeply alarming’ and a ‘damning’ indictment of the SNP’s management of the NHS.

The suggestion of a system where ‘the people who can afford to, go private’ was made during discussions about possible reforms of the NHS among senior health officials.

Other controversial measures were also discussed, including a review of free prescriptions, sending patients home more quickly, pausing funding for new drugs and a wave of efficiency savings.

SNP ministers did not deny that the issues were raised but Nicola Sturgeon insisted the principle of the NHS being free for all is ‘not up for discussion’.

According to draft minutes of a 45-minute meeting of NHS directors, seen by the BBC, a number of ‘themes, issues and ideas’ about ‘what a transformed NHS could look like’ were floated.

Draft minutes of a 45-minute meeting of NHS directors revealed recent conversations’ with NHS Scotland chief executive Caroline Lamb, pictured, about designing a two-tier system where the people who can afford to, go private’

The minutes, marked ‘in confidence not for onward sharing’, show the meeting began with an update about ‘recent conversations’ with NHS Scotland chief executive Caroline Lamb, who is also the Scottish Government director-general of health and social care – the department overseen by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf.

The minutes cover the question ‘what can be done with the financial constraints that we have?’

They say some members of the public ‘are already making the choice to pay privately’ and that the NHS is ‘picking up the cost for life-enhancing not life-saving treatments’.

One suggested possible reform of the service is to ‘design in a two-tier system where the people who can afford to, go private’.

It has led to questions about why senior officials felt they were able to discuss the possible reforms by the NHS Scotland chief executive.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: ‘These revelations are deeply alarming.

‘It’s clear that the NHS leadership are talking about abandoning the founding principles of our health service and introducing patient charges – and that they feel they have the political cover to do so.

‘Despite Humza Yousaf’s protestations, the privatisation of Scotland’s NHS seems to be under active consideration by the SNP. This is outrageous. Healthcare must remain free at the point of use for everyone.

‘The SNP cannot be trusted with Scotland’s NHS. Humza Yousaf has lost the trust of the workforce and the fact that such radical proposals have been taken forward shows the despair felt across the health service as it approaches a winter crisis.’

Dr Gulhane added: ‘Humza Yousaf must take responsibility for this lack of leadership and resign – or be sacked.

The Scottish Government director-general of health and social care is overseen by Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, pictured. A Conservative health spokesperson said the SNP Government must ‘come clean over their plans for our health service’

‘The SNP Government must also come clean over their plans for our health service.’

The minutes show officials acknowledged that it is ‘almost easier to identify what it is not possible to do any more than what is/will be’.

Other suggested possible reforms include a proposal for patients to be discharged home within a maximum of 23 hours; a review of the ‘cost of long-term prescribing where there are alternative options’; an option to ‘pause funding of new development/drugs’ unless they can be proven to save the NHS money; further efficiency savings; charging for freedom of information requests; stopping care services altogether and instead sending patients home for care.

Private hospitals have reported a surge in patients as waiting lists for routine operations on the NHS in Scotland soared to almost 750,000 people.

The most recent data shows private treatment in Scotland’s independent hospitals rose by 56 per cent, from 26,435 in July 2019 to June 2020, to 39,650 between April 2021 and March 2022.

The number of patients paying for operations, tests and other procedures at private hospitals climbed to 4,700 during July to September 2021, up from 2,800 for the same period in 2019.

The minutes, from the September 21 meeting, also raise questions about ministers’ plans for a Scottish national care service, by acknowledging that there is a group within government who ‘recognise that it may not be possible to provide what it was initially proposed’.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane called the revelations ‘deeply alarming’. He added: ‘It’s clear that the NHS leadership are talking about abandoning the founding principles of our health service and introducing patient charges – and that they feel they have the political cover to do so’

They also suggest that spending £800million on the plan ‘does not make sense’ given the financial challenges facing the NHS.

The Government last night said the minutes refer to an ‘informal’ meeting of a ‘small number’ of NHS directors.

In a statement, Mr Yousaf said: ‘The Scottish Government’s policy could not be clearer.

Our NHS must be maintained to the founding principles of Bevan – publicly owned, publicly operated and free at the point of need.

‘The provision of health services must always be based on the individual needs of a patient, and any suggestion that this should in some way be based on ability to pay is abhorrent.’

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